Monday, May 15, 2006

Slate's Pathologically Moronic Take on Preference

This article in Slate argues that lamentations about the death of the independent books are misplaced because the only difference between independents and megastores is that independents have more cachet among uneexceptional people who, nonetheless, want to feel literary. Here's a lengthy quote:

Our attachment to independent bookshops is, in part, affectation—a self-conscious desire to belong a particular community (or to seem to). Patronizing indies helps us think we are more literary or more offbeat than is often the case. There are similar phenomena in the world of indie music fans ("Top 40 has to be bad") and indie cinema, which rebels against stars and big-budget special effects. In each case the indie label is a deliberate marketing ploy to segregate, often artificially, one part of the market from the rest. But when it comes to providing simple access to the products you want, the superstores often do a better job of it than the small stores do: Borders and Barnes & Noble negotiate bigger discounts from publishers and have superior computer-driven inventory systems.

I take issue with the idea that someone's expressed attachment to an independent bookshop is affectation, especially as the writer defines it. I realize Slate's style is "breezy/intellectual" but the writer is essentially calling people who say something along the lines of "I like independents more than I like chains" liars without offering any evidence for it. I could just as easily say that people who write articles positing that a preference for independent bookstores do so only to indicate to others that they belong to a certain tribe do so only to themselves indicate that they belong to the tribe of populist truthtellers who see things as they really are and aren't afraid to do away with sacred cows.

What the author is indirectly doing is calling into question the nature of appeal, but instead of exploring that issue, ie whether the verb "like" means something along the lines of its most common meaning and, if not, what it actually does mean, he presents us with an answer that appears to have been pulled out of thin air.

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